i’m sitting in my hotel room in nashville, at the ys convention. i’ve been here so many times before. in fact, i calculated a couple years ago that i’ve spent more than 3 months of my life in this hotel. ys conventions before i was on staff with ys, ys conventions while i was on staff, emergent conventions and national pastors conventions, and a handful of prep meetings. but today i add a new category: ys conventions after being on staff with ys.
there’s an ego-y part of me that just wants to say i deserve to be here. but there are plenty of reasonable reasons i might not have been invited; not the least of these is that my presence could be (slightly) awkward, or contribute, in a small way, to a distraction from the ‘this is a new day’ vibe that ys is rightfully creating these days. so it’s a credit to my friend tic long, and to his bosses at youthworks, that they were cool with including me.
the san diego convention, a couple months ago, was uber-weird for me. i was loaded with anxiety. that dissipated a bit over the course of the weekend, but still kept me lying low and not being very present. it was hard to put a finger on the weirdness i felt, but i think it centered around not really knowing what my place was. i also had, in a classic 7th grader way, an absurd but unshakable sense that everyone was staring at me (i know this wasn’t true in the least, but i couldn’t seem to escape it). i was projecting little thought-bubbles above their heads: “oh, it’s so nice that he’s here” (with a pitying voice), or “what’s he doing here? isn’t he the guy who screwed up ys?”
one of the really nice things about that experience was that, as i started to notice my levels of anxiety setting in, i recognized the feeling. but the wonderful realization that dawned on me was, “i never feel this anymore!” i had lived with so much anxiety and stress for the last two years we were with our former corporate ownership; so much pressure to conform; so much pressure to turn things around financially; so many impossible decisions, or choices that were expected of me but went against my gut. and i never have that anymore.
sure, if i’m being completely honest, there’s a little identity weirdness in walking around with a nametag that says “speaker”, and not something more. no “all access”, no “ys staff”. and — this is silly, but honest — after so many years of being given absurdly grand suites by the hotel, it’s a little humbling to be in a very, very normal hotel room.
but i expect this weekend to be 170-degrees different than san diego. yeah, not 180-degrees, but almost. the tiny flicker of anxiety is only that. i notice it, but it’s not debilitating. i feel good about being here, and am excited about the stuff i get to do, the youth workers i’ll get to rub shoulders with, and the friends i get to connect with. i’m excited about being present — and i don’t merely mean ‘here’. presence is much better than just being here, if you know what i mean.